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If I Only Had 1 Tip About Using Miles to Book a Trip…

The OTR is heading off to Easter Island later this week (I’ll have more about it on Thursday), but I thought I’d pass along what I consider to be the most important tip about booking a trip using frequent flyer miles (especially in business or first):

You have to keep checking.  Over.  And.  Over.  I know.  That’s annoying.  But having booked a decent number of premium class trips using miles, I’ve seen it in nearly every instance:  the seats I wanted weren’t available when I first wanted to book the trip, but then they open up.  In the case of our trip on Thursday, they opened up this morning.  Why did I know that?  Because I check three times a day.  For me, getting something like $10,000 worth of airline tickets for free is worth 10 minutes of my time each day.  If it’s not, Gary Leff at View from the Wing offers a great service for about $150 where he’ll do all this for you.  And he knows this better than anyone (OK, he and Lucky at One Mile at a Time know this stuff better than anyone).  But you can also do it yourself.  Airlines change award inventory throughout the day, so if you really want that seat, you have to keep checking.

Along those lines:  I recommend booking the tickets in coach if it’s available and premium awards are not.  In most (all?) cases you can move up to business class if the seats become available without incurring a change fee.  I can’t think of a time where I’ve booked a couple of months out without eventually being able to move into a premium seat as it got closer to the travel date.  Seats open up all the time.

Also, rather than calling and spending a year on the phone with the agent for an international reward ticket (checking all of those combinations – and finding a helpful agent – could take hours):  For a OneWorld award, sign up for Qantas’ frequent flyer program (it’s free if you live in the U.S.).  It will give you access to their online reward booking system which shows OneWorld inventory.  For Star, sign up for ANA’s frequent flyer program for access to their alliance’s inventory.  I’ve found SkyTeam to be more hit or miss (Northwest’s site has generally been pretty good, but not perfect – if someone has a better suggestion let me know).

I’ll more details on Thursday, but remember:  don’t give up on that free ticket yet.  Keep checking.  And checking.

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  1. Yeah, for first class rewards, you’ve got to wait for them to clear.

    But I actually think the most important tip for award travel is one word: “partners.”

    Figure out which alliance partners go where you want to go and call your airline to see if they have availability. The odds are much greater that you’ll snag tickets than with the airline you actually have the miles with.

  2. Partners are key. Actually, I can only think of a handful of trips I’ve taken using miles where I only used the airline on which I have miles. I’ve always found partners to have availability where US-based airlines did not (thanks, Air France!). Get creative with those routings…those seats are available.

  3. Jared,

    Qantas site will get you much of oneworld but not all. Cathay Pacific is notably absent, as is Japan Air Lines. A British Airways account will help with these, but the site is clunky. I check Cathay availability on the AsiaMiles website, they have always appeared to offer their members the same inventory as their partners.

    Saying that you can move up from coach to business without a change fee isn’t necessarily correct, it depends on the airline but more often than not this is only true if you’ve issued a business class award (eg if you have business on at least one segment causing the award to price as business). And it usually requires you to keep the same routing and same carriers (if not same flights). Although paying perhaps a $150 change fee to go up to business on a transpacific flight is one of the best values out there, in my view…. :)

  4. Thanks for the clarification, Gary…

    I had booked an AA award on LAN going in business one way and coach the other. Business class opened up on the coach leg, and they changed it without a fee (yes, same flights). I can’t speak for other airlines, though…

    And $150 change fee is nothing if you’re going transpacific in business. It’s a toss-up for me going trans-Atlantic. I’m never really sure if that’s worth the upgrade. 1 ambien and I wake up in Paris, y’know?

  5. Expertflyer.com has saved me many headaches with their flight alert system. Just set it and forget it and you will receive an email as soon as a seat in the inventory, including upgrades and award classes, comes available.

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